Marble Falls If Marjorie Kelly has her way, the term “wealth supremacy” will be as common in political, cultural, and economic discussions as white supremacy. That’s just part of what she was telling me and tens of thousands of others on Wade’s World. Her argument in a nutshell is that the toxicity of wealth in every part of modern life has created an underlying bias towards wealth that infects the rest of our thinking and actions. Kelly believes this so strongly that she’s written a book by the same name: Wealth Supremacy: How the Extractive Economy and Biased Rules of Capitalism Drive Today’s Crises.
She has some powerful arguments that undergird her thesis, not that everyday life in America doesn’t show us examples every time we open a newspaper, turn on the television, or fire up the internet. For example, she points out that where GDP, our Gross Domestic Product, used to record our assets with finance a minor piece of that inadequate measure, now finance is five times GDP. What is it producing for all of us? Nada, nothing. It is simply producing wealth for some private individuals, private equity, and the like.
Reading her book and visiting with her, I was curious about what she had to say about ESG or environmental, social, and governance, investing in this regard, largely because I’ve increasingly become an ESG skeptic. I liken the problem to the issues in advancing fair trade for consumers. There are so many standards along with competing and contradictory inclusions that in my view ESG has become synonymous with marketing, rather than responsible investing. I’m not saying that Kelly leaned that far into the wind with me, but she puts the knife in deep in another direction. Having been an early proponent of what decades ago was called “socially responsible” investing, as well as at one time a member of the Social Venture Network that I knew well from my time as a Tides Foundation board member, she saw ESG as largely a well-constructed apology for wealth supremacy. Her case rested on a company called MSCI, which has become the benchmark for many in this area, and the fact that it rated how water was used in its ESG standard not by consumers use or climate concerns, but by how efficiently water was used in production. That about says it all in my book. I used that as an excuse to bring up how corporations and investors fudge carbon offset purchases as little more than a scam, and Kelly was at least polite in seeming to agree.
What to do about all of this is a problem. Kelly finds hope in the Cincinnati Port Authority trying to build 200 affordable housing units and in worker-ownership of companies without pretending either are at scale. Her real prescription is that we need a “systems overhaul.” Who can disagree? Not me! Unfortunately, that’s more a hope than a plan. Kelly argues, we have to start somewhere, and we need to dream big, and she’s looking for people and groups to get on this freedom train. Right on!